Democrats are again crying foul over a tweak to local election procedure in Macon and Bibb County, after the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill in the final hours of their 2013 session concerning the eligibility of candidates running for seats in the soon-to-be consolidated city-county government.
Under legislation passed by both chambers late last Thursday, candidates in future Macon-Bibb elections will have to live in their districts for at least a year before they qualify for the ballot. But this year, they must only be in residence as of the day they qualify, which will be this month.
Bibb County Democratic Party chair Fred Swann had not heard of the move until contacted by GPB for comment the next morning. He said he suspects a ploy to ensure the eligibility of a particular Republican candidate, though he's not sure which.
"I don’t know who is trying to take advantage of this, but I'll tell you it's very apparent that the Republicans are pushing this through because they have some strategy in mind," Swann said.
Asked for his response, State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said "nothing could be further from the truth." The last-minute measure was needed to resolve a lingering uncertainty about Macon-Bibb elections, he said.
In elections cycles past, candidates for Bibb County offices had to live there at least a year before qualifying for the ballot. But for city elections in Macon, candidates only needed to establish residency as of the day they qualified. Nobody was quite sure how it was going to work this year, Peake said, as candidates run for offices in the new consolidated government.
“We felt we needed to [loosen the residency requirement] for this first initial election because there had been so much confusion about where the districts were going to be, where they were going to be allocated and defined, and we felt like that was the fairest thing for everybody who wanted to run," Peake said.
Earlier in the legislative session state lawmakers made other changes to Macon-Bibb elections, including a move from partisan to nonpartisan elections that Democrats say is designed to make Republicans more electable in this Democratic-leaning city and county. That change, among others, is pending approval by federal authorities under the Voting Rights Act.
Peake said lawyers are still working to determine if the change in residency requirement will require federal approval as well.